Historic destinations give meeting planners and their attendees a sense a place that isn’t available in just any city.
These are places such as the site of the nation’s first enduring English settlement, the spot where President Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, sites where gold rushes and silver cities drew hordes of settlers seeking fortune. In these historic destinations, planners can weave history throughout their meetings and conferences.
The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad Co. formed the town of Durango in southwest Colorado in September 1880 to serve the surrounding mining towns, where lodes — and loads — of silver and gold were being found.
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad opened in 1882, connecting Durango and Silverton 50 miles north, and has been in continual operation ever since. Today, passengers can ride in historic passenger cars behind a steam-powered locomotive to Silverton and take a motorcoach back, or take a shorter trip that goes to Cascade Canyon and back. The original depot houses a museum, and guides lead daily tours of the railyard and roundhouse.
Two blocks north, the historic Strater Hotel has watched over downtown since 1887, and “it’s just like you’re transported back in time when you step into that place,” said Rachel Welsh, public relations and communications manager for Visit Durango. The ornate brick hotel has 88 guest rooms and five event rooms, including the 1,800-square-foot Pullman Room. The hotel houses the Mahogany Grille and the Diamond Belle Saloon, an Old West-style bar with ragtime piano players, saloon girls and occasional gunfight re-enactments.
The 1892 Rochester Hotel is a smaller downtown hotel with 15 guest rooms, a bar and an adjoining “Secret Garden” courtyard.
Main Avenue is home to art galleries and breweries, restaurants and bars, like El Moro Tavern, the site of a 1906 shootout between the county sheriff and the town marshal.
Housed in the former 1893 power plant, the Powerhouse Science Center boasts a plaza overlooking the Animas River that can seat 150 guests, as well as an indoor gallery and a theater.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is a must-visit destination for history buffs, and “the history of Gettysburg definitely helps to attract meetings,” said Karl Pietrzak, president and CEO of Destination Gettysburg.
More than 6,000 acres have been preserved at Gettysburg National Military Park, but the town itself was also part of the battle.
“There are historic buildings that still have cannonballs in the walls or bullet holes,” he said.
The park’s visitor center and museum features the 1884 “Battle of Gettysburg” cyclorama painting, a 360-degree, 3D oil painting intended to make visitors feel like they’re surrounded by the battle. Groups have numerous options for ranger programs and battlefield tours, including a double-decker bus tour with Gettysburg Battlefield Tours.
For team building or leadership development, the Gettysburg Foundation and the Lincoln Leadership Institute will either come to the meeting venue or take attendees onto the battlefield and do a case study of decisions that were made in the heat of battle.
The Gettysburg Hotel originally opened in 1797 on Lincoln town square. The hotel has 119 rooms and 9,000 square feet of flexible meeting space that includes a 3,350-square-foot ballroom, and a rooftop pool. The Federal Pointe Inn, part of the Ascend Hotel Collection, was built in 1898 as Gettysburg’s first high school. In 2012, it was transformed into a hotel with 26 guest rooms and two smaller meeting rooms.
The Dobbin House Tavern is a historic restaurant built in 1776 with a ballroom that can seat 130 people. Nearby, the 1810 Farnsworth House Inn restaurant has over 100 bullet holes marking its facade.
Rapid City, South Dakota
Gold-seeking settlers flooded the Dakota Territory after gold was discovered in 1874, kicking off the Black Hills gold rush.
Two years later, in 1876, a group of unsuccessful miners founded Rapid City, South Dakota, in an effort to create other opportunities, promoting their new city as the “Gateway to the Black Hills.”
In Rapid City’s historic downtown district, “you feel what occurred, what happened here in times past,” said Tyson Steiger, director of sales for Visit Rapid City.
Construction began on the Hotel Alex Johnson on October 3, 1927, just one day before construction began on Mount Rushmore 24 miles away. Hotel guests have included Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum, six U.S. presidents and Mark Twain. Today, the 143-room hotel features four meeting rooms, including a ballroom that can seat 150 for dinner. The Washington-Rushmore room can seat about 100 at rounds or be divided into two spaces.
The Elks Theatre was originally built in 1912 as an opera house. Today, the movie theater is home to one of the largest screens in the state and can be rented for private events and presentations.
From June through August, City View Trolley offers narrated city tours, highlighting points of interest like Main Street Square, the City of Presidents and Chapel in the Hills, a replica of the 850-year-old Stave Church in Norway.
The city’s largest venue, the Monument, is a 500,000-square-foot exhibition center that is home to the brand-new 12,000-seat Summit Arena.
Fort Smith, Arkansas
On Christmas Day 1817, the first soldiers arrived to establish the first Fort Smith, Arkansas, and that site is now preserved as part of the Fort Smith National Historic Site.
The park offers two venues for events. The 1903 Frisco Train Depot can accommodate about 100 guests for banquets, while the main building has three event spaces. There, the classroom can accommodate 47 people, the first jail can hold up to 77 guests, and the courtroom’s occupancy is 85.
Outdoor events, with or without tents, can use various sites around the grounds, including Belle Point, where the first fort sat on a hill overlooking the Arkansas and Poteau rivers. Planners can also arrange for guided tours, ranger talks or living-history re-enactments for attendees.
In downtown, the Fort Smith Convention Center and attached Wyndham Fort Smith are within walking distance of nearby historic attractions. Three blocks away, the Fort Smith Museum of History has been in continual operation since 1910. The four-story former warehouse features recently updated museum exhibits and artifacts, including an 1862 cannon used by Union troops. The museum’s soda fountain is a “working exhibit” where visitors can order ice cream and old-fashioned fountain drinks.
Groups can take guided tours at Miss Laura’s Visitor Center, a restored row house that was once a brothel. Across the street, events can use the indoor-outdoor Riverfront Pavilion. Two blocks away, on the banks of the Arkansas River, the River Park Events Building has two 1,160-square-foot event rooms adjacent to a 1,100-capacity amphitheater.
The city of Williamsburg was founded as the capital of Virginia Colony in 1699. Today, visitors can discover what John Smith’s Virginia Colony was like, visit an active archaeological dig and watch historical interpreters and actors re-create life on the eve of the Revolutionary War.
Colonial Williamsburg is a living-history museum that encompasses part of a historic district within the city of Williamsburg. In the living re-creation of the Revolutionary-era town, horse-drawn carriages clop along Duke of Gloucester Street, and guests can watch craftspeople and artisans ply their trades, take interactive walking tours and be escorted to dinner by fifes and drums.
The Williamsburg Inn opened in April 1937 and today offers 6,500 square feet of meeting space,
including the 3,900-square-foot Regency Room and the 1,650-square-foot East Lounge. The nearby 1939 Williamsburg Lodge has over 45,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space, including a conference center with the flexible 11,200-square-foot Virginia Room and the 6,650-square-foot Colony Room.
At Jamestown Settlement, the site of the colony’s first permanent English settlement, planners can hold a reception on the pier along the James River, with views of the three replica English ships that came to Virginia in 1607, then move to the re-created fort for dinner in a Colonial setting. At the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, groups often kick off an evening reception on the event lawn with a cannon firing followed by dinner in the lobby.